N.U. from the Aegean Migrant Solidarity team interviewed F., a Kurdish man from Turkey, accused of human smuggling after arriving in Greece.
NU: What did you experience in the prison in Chios?
F: It’s a small, old prison, with 200 people and ten wards. Twenty to twenty-four people stayed in each overcrowded ward that only had one toilet and one small kitchen. The food was awful. If you had money, you could shop at the prison market. More than half of those in prison had to eat these lousy meals because they had no money. There were many different nationalities, including Russians, Turks, Albanians, Kurds, Arabs, Afghans, Africans, Pakistanis, and Iranians. All of them were grouped according to their language and country. As for me, caught ‘trafficking from Turkey,’ they sent me to join the people from Turkey. I was with the Turks and Albanians who were inside on smuggling charges. More than half of those in prison were refugees. Many of them were also inside on smuggling charges because those who do not have the money to cross the border negotiate with the smugglers and can offer to drive the boat to pay less or pay nothing at all. They had enormous penalties for no crime. Sometimes smugglers left them in the middle of the sea with nobody to drive the boat; they were forced to drive and were arrested when they arrived.
There was an Afghan who didn’t even drive the boat. He had crossed with a group of Iranians, and when the police seized the dinghy, they arrested him because he was the only one who was not Iranian. Some people didn’t know why they were arrested. Greek courts sentenced most of them to eight to twenty-five years. Many did not have a lawyer and did not speak the language. They had no family or friends to support them because they left their countries and lost many of their relatives in wars. There were also those in prison who were arrested for demonstrating against the inhumane conditions in the refugee camps.
NU: How was your relationship with the people from Turkey?
F: They immediately asked those familiar questions: ‘Who are you, why are you in?’ When I said, ‘I am Kurdish, from the HDP (People’s Democratic Party), I am a political refugee,’ they started making threats. ‘We will not let you live here. There is no place for terrorists here,’ they said. ‘Let’s see how you can refuse to let me live,’ I replied. Although we were in the same ward, we did not communicate for a while. About a quarter of the 200 people in prison were from Turkey. The vast majority were fascists. Most of them had financial difficulties and had to work with smugglers. In prison, even when they are miserable, they can still be nationalist and fascist. I cannot understand this. Racism makes people so stupid that they don’t even notice their own oppression.
NU: Were you subjected to physical violence in prison?
F: No. They even gradually showed me respect. I still don’t understand why. I was different from them. I had an active political past and prison experience in Turkey. My approach to people was different. When they had difficulties between themselves, they started to consult me and trust me slowly because I was more experienced. I went from being someone who they threatened to an expert they would consult. Not only Turks but also refugees in the next ward would consult me. There were many cases of theft inside the prison. I was hiding the belongings, money, and cigarettes of the Iranians who lived in the next ward. There were hundreds of phone cards, dozens of cigarette packs, and a ton of money in my closet. Nobody dared to steal anything from my locker. They called me ‘doctor’ and respected me.
NU: Did you meet the Moldovan captains in prison?
F: Yes, we had some trouble in the beginning. The captains still thought I was squealing on them. Their friends came to punish me as well. When I told them that I was unfairly imprisoned because of them, they apologized and left. Then they came and demanded: ‘If you know the smugglers in Turkey who made the two captains work, contact with them. They never paid any money to the captains. Their families are in a tough situation in Moldova.’ But it was not possible for me to reach the smugglers. Then two captains came and said, ‘If you give money, we will change our statement for you in court.’ I replied, ‘Changing your statement doesn’t matter to me. I’ll get out of here anyway.’ They continued to testify against me in court. Both were sentenced to eight years and four months.
NU: How did you reach your lawyer?
F: I found a lawyer from Athens through my comrades from Turkey. I was sure I would be free in a month. When my objection was rejected, we presented more evidence. The process took longer and longer. We had to wait for the court. Three months later, a friend from Turkey and my sister came to testify on my behalf, but it still did not end my detention. After the coup d’etat in Turkey on 15 July 2016, I was surprised to find out that I was on a list of about forty thousand people given to Interpol. One day the prison administration called me. I thought my court date had been brought forward, and I was hopeful. But I was to be put on trial by Interpol in Lesvos and delivered to Turkey. I went to that court twice. The translator in charge did not speak Turkish. We applied to change the translator, but it was denied. The court decided to extradite me to Turkey. First, I had to finish my sentence in Greece and then I would be returned to Turkey. We appealed to the upper court. We waited three months for this.
NU: How was the decision to extradite you to Turkey perceived in Greece?
F: My case was on the agenda. I gave interviews to a few newspapers from prison. After this, two NGOs from Athens took my file. They became my lawyers and took on my court costs. My last hearing was in Syros (an island in the Aegean Sea). My family and the political movement that I am a part of were very supportive. I also had friends in Greece. Good lawyers took my case, and I was able to prove my innocence. An HDP deputy came to the court, as well as a law professor from Athens. My sister also gave testimony again. The courtroom was overcrowded with supporters. After hearing about the case, a leftist group in Syros started a defence campaign. They wrote my name on a massive banner on the court door and filled the hall with people. I saw the banner on the day of the trial; I had no prior knowledge of it. Young people that I did not know were supporting me in the courtroom. I was very emotional. When the judge spoke quietly, those young people said, ‘We can’t hear!’ and they were shouting. Thanks to this support, I was able to prove my innocence. I came to Athens after 13 months of detention.
NU: How would you evaluate the legal process in Greece for migrants?
F: Migrants cannot explain their troubles. The interpreters are very bad, and migrants cannot even contact their lawyers. If you do not submit additional evidence to the courts, the investigating judge closes the file, and then a new court board is appointed. So nobody truly understands your case. It is decided in a single session, very quickly. They rule according to the judgments of the previous prosecutor and judge without ever seeing you. Even if they see you, they do not ask a single question. The hearing takes only five to ten minutes.
NU: You have been in Athens for three years; how is your life here?
F: I have a good circle in Athens thanks to my Greek friends. I got in contact with the political refugees from Turkey as well as Greek communist and anarchist groups. I’m not part of any group, but I don’t want to be disconnected from the struggle. One of the main points on the agenda here is the refugee struggle. There is a great struggle to support the migrants. I live in the Exarcheia neighbourhood, where the first uprisings started during the coup period. Many political groups still have their headquarters here. Although it is in the center of the city, it is an area where all ‘others’ can live and where refugees feel safe. In turn, drugs are being popularized deliberately. The crime rate in the neighbourhood has increased in recent years. Of course, the state wants to keep refugees out of the city center. The New Democracy government’s most significant electoral promise was to push refugees out of their living quarters. They won the election with xenophobia, with the slogan ‘We will clean up polluted cities.’ When they were elected, the first place they attacked was Exarcheia. Thousands of police officers entered the neighbourhood. They forcibly evacuated almost all of the squats where refugees lived and slowly pushed refugees out of the city.
NU: How was the resistance in the neighbourhood during the attacks?
F: I expected the strong anarchist groups to show serious resistance. But the government’s psychological propaganda reduced the strength of the resistance. There used to be a weekly clash with the police and mass demonstrations in the neighbourhood. But there was no firm response to police violence. The spreading fear broke the resistance. The groups that supported the refugees and occupied the buildings did not protect the squats after the forced evictions. The government only increased the number of police, and violence increased too. This simple plan worked. The student resistance at the university is more active now. The capacity to resist decreases and increases from time to time in every country. Sometimes it turns into a routine. Sometimes it pulls back. Sometimes there is an explosion when everything comes together at the same time, just like the Gezi Park resistance in Turkey. Gezi was not a movement that any political organization could organize or direct. If the state continues to use violence and steadily blocks freedom, society will react in Greece too. Social opposition may have declined in Athens, but this does not mean that we have lost the work that has been done. The social conscience will react.
 First published in birartibir.org